Could we harvest energy from earthquakes?

The Power of Earthquakes
Have you ever experienced an earthquake?
Have you ever experienced an earthquake?

Any force as great as an earthquake is going to produce a lot of energy. To give an example of one of the most powerful quakes in recent memory, the magnitude-9.0 Sumatra-Andaman Islands Earthquake produced 20X10^17 Joules of energy, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, or the same amount of energy of more than 20,000 atomic bombs. The 7.0-magnitude temblor that stuck Haiti in 2010 produced the energy equivalent of 35 atomic bombs.

Building the infrastructure to capture that kinetic energy, turn it into electrical energy and store the end result would take an enormous investment of time and capital -- and all to build and maintain a power supply chain that might not even pay off for decades or even centuries at a time.

Only major earthquakes can produce the power necessary to justify such an investment. And unfortunately for any potential energy suppliers looking to seismic sources, as Richard M. Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, told Discovery News' Sarah Simpson, most of the largest earthquakes, such as the one that struck off the coast of Japan in March of this year, occur underwater.

In 2011, there were nearly 20,500 earthquakes, according to the U.S.G.S. Less than 1 percent of earthquakes would be strong enough to justify the expense of putting in place a system to capture that energy.

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